“You need to combine innovation, agility, and human values”
Why did you choose Montpellier?I was born in Bédarieux, in France’s Hérault department. I studied hydraulic engineering at Polytech Montpellier, which was called ISIM at the time. I became a project manager and then director at BRL, the local expert in hydraulics for public authorities in the Occitanie region. After floods in 1999 in the Aude department, and in 2002 in the Gard department, the BRL team went out to meet mayors in the affected areas to get their feedback and try to learn what happened. Local authorities told us how they were completely taken by surprise, powerless to react, and that they lacked information. I wanted to help them. It was a time of technological innovation. Notably, Airbus was developing tools. Météo France wished to address the problem.
BRL wanted to leverage its expertise to support territorial efforts. We elaborated a project, which I brought to Montpellier BIC in late 2003, along with a PhD-Engineer and a marketing-communication specialist that I had hired. With respect to water issues and disaster prevention, Montpellier also benefits from a community of research-professors and renowned companies, including Polytech, a Master's program in risk management, and the Aqua Valley competitiveness cluster. Not to mention an exceptional quality of life.
What was the main contribution for your success brought by Montpellier BIC and its teams?When you have an idea that you want to pursue, you need to innovate at every level: technical, business, and organizational. I could not enjoy that agility, flexibility, and support in a large company. Montpellier BIC is the perfect solution when you have an idea that you want to transform into a business. We met people at the Cap Omega incubator who were already working with Big Data and renewable energies. The facility and reception area are also very pleasant. We were assisted by a business project advisor. We benefited from training programs. The ambiance was very stimulating during that phase of establishing our structure. We lived our work weeks enthusiastically!
Being surrounded by other people going through the same experience enabled us to hold on, as well as to receive good advice both formally and informally. We are all swimming around the same aquarium, exchanging ideas in a simple and friendly manner. BIC advisors lead and maintain that state of mind. We founded the company at the BIC facility in 2006 and we stayed at the incubator for another year after that.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs who want to start a company?The first piece of advice I would offer is this: take your time and fully frame your idea to avoid taking risks. Find the right balance without being over-optimistic, but also don't give up too quickly. It is important to take progressive steps that enable you to validate the feasibility of transforming your idea into a business model. That is done by discussing openly with people in a position to offer advice, talk about projects, and elaborate both positive and negative scenarios. Incubator assistance enables you to pursue that thinking with peace-of-mind. It also creates opportunities, such as meeting with investment fund directors and venture capitalists, finding funding, and most importantly, choosing the right technical and financial partners.
Creating a company is a complex process that takes a lot of time. You need to have the right people around you. Even with that, there is still some level of risk. I was a director at BRL, leading a team comprised of many people. I chose to invest in this ethical project that represents major stakes with respect to the impact of climate change. That’s how I ended up with two other people in a 20 m² office at Montpellier BIC. I let my passion lead the way! I have absolutely no regrets today, as this continues to be an exciting adventure. I am also aware that my drive to launch the project was a determining factor.
How do you envision the innovative company of tomorrow in Montpellier?In the Montpellier area, we can’t align ourselves with a major industry, as would be the case with aeronautics in Toulouse. You could consider that as a benefit, because it means that anything is possible. Most development is based on new technologies in promising sectors such as farming, medicine, and tourism. Fifteen years ago, I thought that the innovation motivating company creation was the key for success. We had to innovate continually and adopt innovations that needed to become operational quickly so as not to become obsolete, such as dynamic mapping. You need to combine innovation, agility, and human values. Those are the three key elements of innovative companies in Montpellier. Why are human values so important?
We had one question to resolve from the outset: why found a private company to take on a mission of public interest? The issue here is to save lives and avoid massive amounts of damage. We created a citizen-oriented company and elaborated a value charter. Human aspects are the most important, as we need to be able to work at any time – even on Christmas eve – in order to stay calm and in phase with public authorities, while guiding them and reassuring them. That is a key element for success.